As you guys may remember, last month I asked "What Should a Person Do?" when confronted with a situation where authors of a paper published something they knew to be false. I still don't have a good answer, but today, I took one step in potentially addressing the issue by contacting the journal of the paper this particular example was published in. I thought I'd post it here as well so people could see. Maybe I should have done that first so I could get feedback?
I am writing to you to inform you a paper recently published in your journal contains a statement its authors knew to be false. Moreover, they knew this statement exaggerates results of their own work. I believe this to be a breach of ethics.
The paper in question is:
Does It Matter if the Consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming Is 97% or 99.99%?
It was published on May 2, 2007, by the authors:
Andrew G. Skuce, John Cook, Mark Richardson, Bärbel Winkler, Ken Rice, Sarah A. Green, Peter Jacobs, Dana Nuccitelli
This paper refers to a previous paper most of those authors collaborated on, labeled C13. The authors describe this paper as being a study where people (primarily the team of authors) rated 11,944 abstracts of scientific papers to determine if those papers endorsed the consensus on global warming. In the paper published in your journal, the authors claim abstracts would be rated as endorsing the consensus only if they stated "implicitly or explicitly, that humans are the main cause" of global warming.
That claim is false. The rating criteria used in the paper contains seven categories regarding the cause of global warming, three of which were considered endorsements. Those three are:
1) Explicit endorsement with quantification
2) Explicit endorsement without quantification
3) Implicit endorsement
At a glance, it is obvious "endorsement without quantification" cannot indicate endorsement of the idea humans are the main cause. The third category has in its description, "research assumes greenhouse gas emissions cause warming without explicitly stating humans are the cause." If humans are not stated to be the cause of global warming, they are certainly not stated to be the main cause.
That many of these abstracts do not indicate humans are the main cause of global warming can be readily verified by looking at the abstracts themselves. 3,896 abstracts were rated as endorsing the consensus, but only 64 of those were placed in category 1. The remaining 3,832 abstracts do not indicate humans are the main cause (unless they were miscategorized).
We could engage in a lengthy discussion of specific abstracts to prove this. However, a more direct solution would be to look at the authors own statements regarding their understanding of their project. This will not only demonstrate C13 did not document any consensus on the idea humans are the "main cause" of global warming, but also, that the authors of this current paper were fully aware of that.
This is what Dana Nuccitelli, second author of C13 and author of the current paper, said when designing the rating system used for C13:
1. Explicitly endorses and quantifies AGW as 50+% cause of the observed warming (or consistent with the IPCC, or something similar)
2. Explicitly endorses but does not quantify AGW
3. Implicitly endorses AGW (by definition does not quantify)
5. Implicitly minimizes AGW (i.e. says the sun is playing a big role)
6. Explicitly minimizes AGW (less than 50%, less than IPCC, less than consensus, etc.)
7. Explicitly says there’s no anthropogenic effect on climate/temperature
For ‘humans are causing most of the warming’, #1 qualifies as an endorsement, while #5 through 7 are rejections.
For ‘humans are causing warming’, #1 through 3 are endorsements, while only #7 is a rejection.
Nuccitelli said Category 1 is the only category which indicates endorsement of the idea :humans are causing most of the warming." Categories 1-3 only indicate "humans are causing warming," without any sort of quantification. This is why he said:
The way I see the final paper is that we’ll conclude ‘There’s an x% consensus supporting the AGW theory, and y% explicitly put the human contribution at >50%’.
Plugging in the results into this statement would give:
There’s a 97% consensus supporting the AGW theory, and 45% put the human contribution at >50%.
According to the author's own formulation, only 45% of their abstracts "put the human contribution at" greater than half. He said this on a message board all the authors of the current paper (Ken Rice) were active in and read to get guidance on how to participate in the research project.
Ultimately, the members of that project decided not to go with Nuccitelli's formulation. They kept his rating system but chose not to examine the two consensus positions individually. John Cook, head of that project and author of the current paper (as well as owner of the message board this was discussed on) said:
Okay, so we've ruled out a definition of AGW being "any amount of human influence" or "more than 50% human influence". We're basically going with Ari's porno approach (I probably should stop calling it that 🙂 which is AGW = "humans are causing global warming". Eg - no specific quantification which is the only way we can do it considering the breadth of papers we're surveying.
Whatever the merits of this decisions, the authors intentionally chose to publish their results in the vaguely defined terms of, "Humans are cuasing global warming" which they knew to not entail any specific quantification. They had the option of examining the strength of the consensus humans are the "main cause" of global warming, but they chose not to publish any results on that issue. It is inappropriate for them to now turn around and pretend they did so.
This e-mail has gotten rather lengthy so I will stop it here. If you would like documentation, references or further evidence, I am happy to provide them. There are many other comments by these authors showing they knew their results did not indicate humans are the "main cause" of global warming, including rater remarks submitted along with their ratings of individual abstracts.
I cannot say why this false claim was included in the paper, and I imagine it may have been inadvertent, but the statement is obviously false to anyone familiar with C13. The authors are certainly aware it is false.